Marguerite Fahmy Case File
By Mohd Yaakob Yusof
Frenchwoman Marie-Marguerite Laurient began her
affair with Egyptian Prince Ali Kamel Fahmy Bey in May 1922 in Paris,
following her divorce from her first husband. The 23-year-old Prince
Ali, attached to the French legation in Cairo, was extravagant and
allegedly had a sadistic bent.
It was rumoured in Egypt that Ali was homosexual,
but this was not in evidence when he passionately pursued Laurient,
who had years before her marriage called herself Maggie Mellor. He was
captivated by the elegant brunette divorcee, who was ten years his
senior, and took her back to Cairo where he suggested they live
When Laurient balked, the prince proposed marriage,
and Laurient accepted, but with conditions. A contract was drawn up
that permitted her to wear western-style clothing and to divorce the
prince at any time.
In return, she would convert to the Muslim faith,
thereby ensuring All’s inheritance. But when the religious ceremony
took place, Fahmy ordered the divorcee clause removed, allowing him to
take three wives if help eased.
Marguerite found Fahmy to be an abusive husband. He
frequently beat her and assigned a houseboy to follow her throughout
her day, even when she undressed. The couple travelled to London on
July 10, 1923, and registered at the elegant Savoy Hotel.
That night they quarrelled bitterly about an
operation Marguerite was scheduled to undergo. Prince Ali wanted it
performed in London, but Marguerite insisted on travelling to Paris to
have it done.
While they ate supper in the hotel dining room, a
band leader strolled by the table to take requests. “I don’t want
music,” Marguerite told the band leader in French—she did not speak a
word of English. “My husband has threatened to kill me tonight!”
The band leader thought the elegant-attired woman
was making an amusing remark and suavely replied: “I hope you will
still be here tomorrow, Madame.”
The couple retired to their suite at 1:30 a.m. A
luggage porter passing their door a short time later saw Fahmy burst
from the room in agitation, his face scratched. “Look at my face!” he
shouted to the porter. “Look at what she has done!” But the porter
only reminded him to keep quiet. Seconds later three shots rang out.
The porter rushed to the room to find the prince lying on the floor of
The hotel manager was summoned. Marguerite, tears
running down her cheeks, had thoughts only for herself. As she stood
next to her fallen husband, she said: “Oh, sir, I have been married
six months, which has been torture for me. I have suffered terribly.”
Wounded, Fahmy was taken to a hospital where he
died a short time later. Marguerite was charged with his murder. The
lurid trial of Marguerite Fahmy opened in London’s Central Criminal
Court on September 10, 1923, before 49-year-old Mr. Justice Rigby
The prosecution was headed by the redoubtable
Percival Clarke. It was thought that the Fahmy case was open and shut,
and that Marguerite would soon be behind bars for life or, worse, go
to the hangman.
She was, however, represented by two of England’s
most able lawyers, Sir Edward Marshall Hall and Sir Henry
Curtis-Bennett. Hall’s defence was brilliant if unorthodox.
Hall portrayed the prince as a stalking brute whose
entourage of perverts and degenerates had made Marguerite’s life
miserable, and who, on the night in question, tried to kill her.
Hall had obtained a telling piece of evidence from
the prison medical officer at Holloway Prison, where Marguerite had
been jailed, following her arrest. The physician stated that he
examined the woman at that time and found three abrasions on the back
of her neck, apparently caused by a man’s hand.
Fahmy had tried to strangle his wife on the night
of the shooting, Hall said, and she had simply defended her life when
her lethal husband advanced toward her with gun in hand, wrestling the
gun away from him and then pulling the trigger of the Browning
In a chilling recreation, Hall took the actual
murder weapon and demonstrated the shooting for the benefit of the
jury. For an instant he pointed the weapon at the jury, acting out the
role of Prince Ali, who had reportedly advanced on his wife in a
Hall crouched and snarled and hissed in a
convincing imitation of the murderous Fahmy. The hushed courtroom then
watched Hall drop the gun to the floor. The lawyer later insisted that
that part was an accident, but it had a powerful effect on the jury,
which returned a verdict of not guilty after only an hour’s
deliberation. The jurors all but ignored the fact that Marguerite had
shot her husband at point-blank range.
The acquittal of Princess Fahmy created a sensation
in England and on throughout Europe. Hall’s defence had been laced
with prejudice in depicting Egyptian culture as uncivilized and
catering to myriad perversions and that the murder victim was a
millionaire “Oriental” who preyed upon Western women to degrade them
and destroy their values of decency.
Criticized for such conduct, Hall defended himself,
saying: “The only thing that I remember saying that might be
misunderstood was that it was a mistake for Western woman to marry
Eastern man, and his idea of his rights toward a wife were those of
possession instead of mutual alliance.”
Marguerite enjoyed the limelight for the next few
years, even appearing in some minor French films. Oddly, the
sloe-eyed, sultry woman enacted in one movie the role of an Egyptian
wife, the very role model she had resisted in real life to the point
The Murder of Ali Fahmy at the Savoy Hotel
“What have I done, my dear! What have I done!"
The two court cases were over seventy years apart
and the LA suburb of Brentwood is a long way from the relative
sophistication of London’s Savoy Hotel in the 1920s but when OJ
Simpson was infamously acquitted in 1995, despite seemingly
overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the shocked reaction around the
world would not have been dissimilar to when Marguerite Fahmy was
sensationally found ‘not guilty’ of the internationally reported
murder of her Egyptian playboy husband at the hotel in 1923.
The Savoy Hotel had opened in 1889, and had been no stranger to
scandal – it was at Oscar Wilde’s infamous trial where it came to
light that he had entertained a succession of rent-boys at the hotel’s
room 361. After Wilde had been arrested for gross indecency the
presiding magistrate said “I know nothing about the Savoy, but I must
say that in my view chicken and salad for two at sixteen shillings is
very high. I am afraid I shall never supper there myself.”
However it was still the place to stay for celebrities and royalty
visiting London. In 1923 the hotel was still seen as one of the finest
in the world and in that year, amongst others, Walter Hagen, Fred and
Adele Astaire and the opera singer Luisa Tetrazzini (as in chicken)
had all stayed there.
A typical dismal drizzly April in London that year had only been
brightened by the wedding of Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon to the Duke of
York, Prince Albert – known as ‘Bertie’ to his family and close
friends. The house band at the Savoy Hotel – The Savoy Havana Band –
made its debut on the BBC on 13th April 1923, not least because the
BBC at the time was next door and shared its generator with the hotel.
A few weeks later on the morning of Sunday 1 July 1923 a limousine
drove into Savoy Court and the Hotel doorman helped out a couple who
were known to the hotel as the Prince and Princess Fahmy. They were
accompanied by the Prince’s private secretary, Mr Said Enani.
Accurately Prince Fahmy wasn’t really a prince but he did little to
discourage the use of the title when away from Egypt.
The 22 year Egyptian had met his bride to be, a
woman ten years his senior, in Paris the year before -incidentally the
year that Egypt was granted independence, if not overall control, by
the British Government. To many people Marguerite was seen, at best,
as a flirtatious gold-digger and more in love with his not
inconsiderable fortune than the man himself. They had married in
Egypt, first by a civil ceremony on 26th December and then followed by
a Muslim wedding in January 1923 where Madame Fahmy, modestly veiled,
proclaimed in Arabic ‘There is one God and Mohammed is His Prophet’.
After a few days in London, which was experiencing
a heatwave, Marguerite Fahmy summoned the Savoy’s doctor – she was
suffering badly from external haemorrhoids. She alleged to Dr Gordon,
while he was treating her, that her husband had ‘torn her by unnatural
intercourse’ and was ‘always pestering her’ for this kind of sex.
Already thinking about possible future divorce proceedings she
repeatedly asked the doctor for ‘a certificate as to her physical
condition to negative the suggestion of her husband that she had made
up a story’. The doctor, although respectful, ignored her request.
On the 9th July the couple went to Daly’s Theatre
on Cranbourne Street off Leicester Square (where the Vue West End
cinema now stands) to see, with hindsight the darkly ironic ‘The Merry
Widow’. It had been an incredibly hot day and you can only imagine how
uncomfortably warm the theatre must have been in those
pre-air-conditioned days (although as far as a lot of the West End is
concerned we’re still in those days). Not the ideal conditions for
someone suffering from piles I would imagine. The main performers in
Lehar’s popular operetta were the 22 year old Evelyn Laye and the
Danish matinee idol Carl Brisson.
The couple returned to the Savoy after the theatre
for a late supper, however the meal was disrupted by a huge argument
which had recently become almost a daily occurrence. Ali had even
appeared in public with scratches on his face and Marguerite had been
seen with dark bruises on her face ill-disguised with powder and
makeup. The row this time degenerated to such an extent that
Marguerite picked up a wine bottle and shouted in French ‘You shut up
or I’ll smash this over your head.’ Ali replied ‘If you do, I’ll do
the same to you.’ They eventually calmed down, not without the help of
the head-waiter, and went to the ballroom to listen to the Savoy
Havana Band. The house band no doubt would have been playing at one
point Yes, We Have No Bananas
or perhaps Ain’t We Got Fun
both big hits that year. It wasn’t long before Marguerite, after
refusing the offer of a dance with her husband, retired to her room.
Mr Said Enani, as a witness in court a few weeks
later, said that Mr Fahmy, in full evening dress, had decided to take
a cab in the direction of Piccadilly even though the hot balmy weather
had now turned into one of the worse thunderstorms in living memory.
When asked the reason why he went, he said he did not know. Although
we can perhaps presume that Ali was either visiting an unlicensed
nightclub or on the search for either a male or female prostitute both
of which frequented the area in high numbers around that part of the
At around 2.00am the hotel’s night porter passed
the door to the Fahmy’s suite but heard a low whistle and looking back
saw Ali Fahmy bending down apparently whistling for Marguerite’s
little dog that had been following the night porter down the corridor.
After continuing on his way for just three yards he suddenly heard
three shots fired in quick succession.
He ran back and saw Marguerite throw down a black
handgun and also saw Ali slumped against the wall bleeding profusely
from a wound on his temple from which splinger of bone and brain
tissue protruded. ‘Qu’est-ce que j’ai fait, mon cher?’ (what have I
done, my dear?’) Marguerite kept saying over and over again.
Marshall Hall was almost 65 at the time of
Marguerite’s trial and was a household name. He was six feet three,
handsome for his age, and a commanding presence in the courtroom. He
was commonly known, after being responsible for several famous
acquittals, as ‘The Great Defender’. Marshall Hall’s final speech to
the jury in defence of Marguerite, or Madame Fahmy as the press were
now calling her, slowly became a character assassination of her dead
husband. he portrayed him as a monster of Eastern amoral bisexual
depravity. (Not too) subtly Hall accused both Prince Fahmy and his
private secretary of being homosexuals.
The public gallery consisted of many young women
some of whom were noted to be barely eighteen. Marshall Hall looked up
to the gallery saying ‘if women choose to come here to hear this case,
they must take the consequences’. None of them left. Meanwhile he
turned the attack on Ali to sodomy. Fahmy, said Hall, ‘developed
abnormal tendencies and he never treated Madame normally’ Asking them
to disregard the fact that the victim was younger than his wife. ‘Yes,
he was only 23 years old,’ he told them. ‘But he was given to a life
of debauchery and was obsessed with his sexual prowess.’ He went on to
remind them that, as an Oriental man, his wife to him was no more than
a belonging and that however much he may have acquired the outward
signs of urbanity and sophistication, he was forever an Oriental under
When Marguerite took the stand, she was encouraged
by the Great Defender to describe her life as a Muslim bride and to a
lot of observers this was when the case turned her way. She testified
at one point how she had been sitting ‘in a state of undress in which
her modesty would have forbidden her facing even her maid’, she had
noticed a strange noise and she pulled aside the hangings that
screened an alcove and ‘saw crouching there, where he could see every
move she made, one of her husband’s numerous ugly, black,
half-civilized manservants, who obeyed like slaves his every word’.
She screamed for help, but when her husband, appeared from an
adjoining room he only, laughed, saying that “He is nobody. He does
not count. But he has the right to come here or anywhere you may go
and tell me what you are doing."
It was like a scene from Rudolph Valentino’s The
Sheik, the extraordinarily popular film released the year before, and
the women in the gallery were treating it as such.
Before he summed up, the judge, referring to the
public gallery said, ‘These things are horrible; they are disgusting.
How anyone could listen to these things who is not bound to listen to
them passes comprehension.’ However he had been swayed by Marshall
Hall’s defence, that pandered to the prejudices of the tie, and during
the summing up endorsed Marshall Hall by saying ‘We in this country
put our women on a pedestal: in Egypt they have not the same views...'
The jury, after less than an hour’s consideration,
announced ‘not guilty’ to both the charges of murder and of
manslaughter, and Madame Fahmy was discharged and was now a free
The prosecution was refused by the judge, seemingly
in awe as much as anyone else to the Great Defender, to cross-examine
Marguerite ‘as to whether or not she had lived an immoral life’, to
show that she was ‘a woman of the world, well able to look after
If she had been cross-examined properly the jury
would have found out that not only had Marguerite been a teenage
common prostitute in Bordeaux and in Paris and had an illegitimate
daughter when she was just fifteen, but she had also become a trained
high-class courtesan (it was said that she always spoke in a rather
stilted French because of elocution lessons). Not only that but
Marguerite’s husband was not alone in having inclinations towards the
same sex: it was found out by a private detective hired by the
prosecution that it was well known in Paris that Madame Fahmy “is
addicted, or was addicted, to committing certain offences with other
women and it would seem that there is nothing that goes on in such
surroundings as she has been moving in Paris that she would not be
quite well acquainted with..."
The world’s press reported the case with
undisguised glee, mostly portraying Mardame Fahmy as less than
innocent in more ways than one. The French newspapers concentrated on
the fact that the jury considered the case as if a
crime passionnel defence was
allowed in English law.
After the verdict Marguerite soon left for Paris
where she found out that she had no claim to her late husband’s
fortune as he had left no will. After a failed, and slightly ludicrous
plot where she pretended that she had been pregnant and subsequently
borne a son (who would have been entitled to his father’s fortune).
She was now almost a laughing stock in Parisian society and became
relatively a recluse. She died on 2 January 1971 in Paris. She never
A Diwan of contemporary life
The trial of a Frenchwoman for the murder of her
Egyptian husband in London in 1923 turned into a courtroom show of
contempt and racist prejudice against Eastern men generally and
Egyptians in particular. There was not the slightest shadow of doubt
that the wife fatally shot her husband in the back. But her British
lawyer tore the husband's character to pieces and, in the process,
strongly condemned Eastern men for depravity, corruption and
ill-treatment of wives. The jury, swayed by the dramatic defence
performance, acquitted the wife. The ruling touched off adverse
reactions among the Arabs.
Dr Yunan Labib Rizk tells the story from
reports published by Al-Ahram
The scene: the Savoy Hotel in London on the evening
of 1 September, 1923. Ali Kamel Fahmi Bek, an Egyptian notable,
quarrels bitterly with Marguerite, his French wife. He then emerges
from the hotel room and as his little dog scampers down the hallway.
He whistles to call it back when suddenly his wife shoots him in the
back. He dies instantly.
This incident may well have remained confined to
the crime pages in the British, Egyptian and French press had it not
been for the great commotion stirred by the trial of Marguerite, which
lasted from 11 to 15 September that year. Indeed, such was the
sensation surrounding this trial that the correspondent of The Near
East in Cairo observed, "The Arabic newspapers in Egypt have spent
fortunes on obtaining wire releases from London on the Madame Fahmi
case." Al-Ahram stood out as the only newspaper to feature the
court transcripts, and the correspondent went on to relate that when
he attempted to buy a copy of Al-Ahram one afternoon, the
newsboy told him, "Even if you could pay all the money there is in
Egypt you wouldn't be able to buy a copy of Al-Ahram dealing with the
While much of the excitement stemmed from the
identity of the protagonists, the victim and the murderess, the case
also highlighted an issue that some might have pinpointed by citing
Rudyard Kipling's famous verse, "East is East and West is West, and
never the twain shall meet."
To begin with the protagonists, Marguerite was 33
years old, French, a divorcee and remarkably beautiful, according to
the accounts of the reporters who attended the trial. She also had a
15-year-old illegitimate daughter. Ali Kamel Fahmi was a 23-year-old
Egyptian youth -- 10 years younger than his wife -- and is not to be
confused with Ali Fahmi Kamel, the brother of the Egyptian nationalist
leader Mustafa Kamel. Belonging to the upper class of notables most of
whom were of Turkish origin, he had three brothers and during the
short period of his marriage he claimed to be related to King Fouad,
and, moreover, assumed the title of "prince." He certainly spent as
lavishly as a prince, for, according to Al-Ahram, over the four
years prior to his murder he spent "half a million pounds on women,
alcohol and cars. The palace he had built for himself cost him
LE120,000. He was also in the habit of presenting valuable gifts to
the police in every city where he took up residence."
In her memoirs on her marriage to Ali Fahmi --
memoirs which the newspapers scrambled to publish following her trial
-- Marguerite relates that she was in Cairo when her husband-to-be
started to court her. She was flattered and delighted by his
infatuation, "and as Fahmi Bek's love for me grew stronger and
stronger, I began to see before me a life I had only read about in
A Thousand and One Nights and I heard passionate words of love and
promises of what happiness his vast wealth could bring us." Marguerite
and Fahmi signed their marriage contract on 27 December, 1922, and as
this contract stipulated that she had to convert to Islam, she did so
two weeks later.
Marguerite's memoirs also give a picture of her
husband's extravagance. He had to have three telephones in his hotel
room, undoubtedly strategically placed to avoid excess legwork. He had
a speedboat fitted out with a 450-horsepower engine in which he would
"fly across the surface of the Nile at terrifying breakneck speeds,
creating strong waves that caused houseboats to rock precipitously and
careen into the banks, shattering the pottery in them as their
occupants climb out and shower curses after the boat and its
Fahmi's and Marguerite's marriage lasted only eight
months, ending in that tragic scene in the Savoy Hotel. The incident
afforded Egyptian readers an unsettling view of the racism and bigotry
latent in the European soul and encapsulated in the famous Kipling
verse. This is undoubtedly one reason why Al-Ahram covered the ensuing
trial so assiduously through the reports filed by its correspondent in
the British capital.
The trial opened on Tuesday, 11 September 1923, in
a small London courtroom. In fact, the courtroom was so small that
Al-Ahram's correspondent in his first dispatch described it as
containing no more than 20 seats to accommodate lawyers, journalists
and the few members of the public who were able to obtain passes.
Clearly justice officials had imagined that they had an open-and-shut
murder case that held nothing to attract widespread attention. They
could not have been more mistaken. Only two days into the trial, the
tiny courtroom swelled with spectators while a queue of at least 50
people stood outside the courtroom door waiting for someone to leave
so they could take his place. In fact, the correspondent recounts,
there were some inside the courtroom who recognised the opportunity to
turn a little profit and sold their places to any of the many dying to
Inside the courtroom, there was, of course, the
judge, the attorneys for the prosecution and a 12-member jury.
However, the star performer was Sir Marshall Hall, who headed the
three-member defence team. It was Hall who turned an ordinary criminal
case into a trial of Oriental customs, transforming it into a "public
opinion" issue which had the French and British siding with Marguerite
as the victim of Oriental "backwardness" and "barbarity," and the
Egyptians, supported by some Arabs, rallying to the defence of their
customs and traditions. And, indeed, it did seem as though "the twain"
would never meet.
Undoubtedly, Marguerite hired Hall for her defence
both because of his social status -- he was after all a "Sir" -- and
because of his considerable repute as a lawyer. But Hall's services
were not cheap. According to Al-Ahram, he charged £3,000, and another
£2,000 and £500 for his first and second assistants respectively --
huge sums by the standards of the times. The defendant also set aside
£4,500 for the London and Parisian press, for the purposes of "winning
over public sympathy, vilifying her Oriental husband and portraying
the 'sufferings' of a wife in Egypt, particularly if she is a
civilised European woman." Needless to say, it was her dead husband's
money that enabled her to afford the exorbitant expenses it would take
to escape paying the penalty for her crime, particularly as her father
was a driver by profession.
As the foregoing suggests, Hall's defence consisted
primarily of an extended broadside against the character of her
Egyptian husband. He exploited some of the testimony given in court to
portray a man who lured an unsuspecting woman to Egypt, where "he
showed her his luxurious palace with its full suite of maids and
servants, his luxury car, his yacht and his motorboat and all other
accoutrements of opulence." He argued that Fahmi was "driven to this
by that infatuation Eastern men have for Western women," but beneath
his urbane exterior he was still a "brutal savage." And, in an
"impassioned speech," as Al-Ahram's correspondent described it,
Hall went on to enumerate the many horrors perpetrated against the
refined French wife. He alleged that Fahmi possessed a gun that he
would fire over her head "to frighten her into submission, exacting
from her as one would from a slave abject obedience, for women to him
were no more than mere property."
On several occasions, Fahmi forbade his wife to
take the car and made her, instead, take the tram in the company of a
Nubian servant "to keep an eye on her." One suspects here that the
British lawyer was deliberately distorting the fact that it was the
custom among prominent Egyptian families for women not to leave the
home unescorted, if not for protection, at least for the sake of
propriety; but certainly not for the purposes of surveillance.
Third on the husband's list of crimes against his
wife was that he had promised to pay her a dowry of LE1,000, but only
gave her LE450 in cash and a cheque for the remainder. Sir Marshall
adds, "This was all the money Madame Fahmi obtained from that man who
we can assure you was one of the wealthiest men in Egypt." Hall
ignored the fact that the large number of servants in palaces was a
social status symbol. As for his contention that Marguerite was a
virtual prisoner in her husband's palace, Fahmi's aim may have been to
restrain his wife's Parisian way of life which would not have gone
down well in Cairo.
It was thus, Hall stated, that Marguerite lived in
Cairo in that palatial abode prepared for her by her husband, "but at
the mercy of the Negro servants and as little more than a prisoner at
his command." Then, with a dramatic flourish, the distinguished lawyer
extracts a letter, unsigned, but purportedly sent to Marguerite by a
well-meaning friend in Paris, and reads it to the court. The anonymous
"Pray permit a friend who has travelled extensively
in many countries of the Orient and has studied the morals of Oriental
people and knows their sinister ways to offer you some advice. Do not
return to Egypt. It is better to risk your money than your life, for I
fear an accident may befall you if you go!"
Hall concludes his appeal with a deft summation of
the picture of an innocent European woman who had fallen into the
clutches of a man epitomising all the Oriental vices. "This curiously
alluring, yet cheerful and unsuspecting woman committed a dreadful
mistake in her assessment of the moral fiber of Fahmi Bek. Many women
fall for younger men and Fahmi Bek, using all his Oriental cunning,
succeeded in posing as a gentleman and an acceptable spouse. Yet, in
fact, he was a womaniser, a philanderer whose traitorous deception
surfaced only after he secured her signature on the marriage contract.
Then, his true character began to show itself, as suddenly he changed
from a meek and ardent suitor to a savage beast of the lowest possible
nature. The more one looks at the conditions that this ill-fated woman
endured the more one shivers in horror and disgust."
On Friday, 14 September, Hall addresses the jury
directly, asking them to disregard the fact that the victim was
younger than his wife. "Yes, he was only 23 years old," he told them.
"But he was given to a life of debauchery and was obsessed with his
sexual prowess." He went on to remind them that, as an Oriental man,
his wife to him was no more than a belonging and that however much he
may have acquired the outward signs of urbanity and sophistication, he
was forever an Oriental under the skin.
The Al-Ahram correspondent said Hall was "as
outstanding an actor as he is a lawyer." This had an effect on the
jury and on British public opinion.
The prosecution, moreover, proved no match for the
defence. In fact, the public prosecutor almost admitted as such,
opening his appeal with the wry comment that Hall's performance was
"the most powerful and expert dramatic production ever presented by
the legal profession in Britain." He went on to add, "However, now I
would like to transport you away from the theatrical climate that has
prevailed in this courtroom for four days." And he did indeed try to
do so, but without succeeding in significantly diminishing the effect
Hall had on the jury.
The prosecutor argued, firstly, that the difference
in age between the spouses was a significant factor. As a 33-year-old
woman, Marguerite was experienced in the affairs of the world and men,
having given birth to a child when she was no more than 16. He then
went on to furnish evidence of Fahmi's love for Marguerite, a love
that had driven him to write her numerous passionate letters and to
woo her into marriage. In Cairo, he enabled Marguerite to live in the
lap of luxury. "There is no proof whatsoever that he took delight in
tormenting women. Quite to the contrary, the evidence points to the
fact that Madame Fahmi yearned to be a princess and that she was
prepared to renounce her religion and relinquish her right to divorce
in order to fulfill this dream. Greed played a large part in her
marriage to that young man."
Unfortunately, the prosecutor had to confess that
that marriage was marred by frequent quarrels, and it may have further
weakened his argument that he expressed his regrets that Islamic law
confers on the Muslim husband certain marital rights, such as the
right to discipline the wife, but, he was quick to add, "not in the
brutal manner described by Sir Marshall."
The presiding judge was apparently well aware of
the general tide of opinion. He could see it on the faces of the jury
members, in the behaviour of the spectators and in the comments of the
British press. Consequently, at the end of the hearings, he took pains
to deliver a stern caution to the members of the jury:
"The prosecution has demonstrated that the
defendant killed Ali Fahmi Bek, in an act which the law considers
deliberate murder, as long as the defence has not been able to prove
otherwise. If the members of the jury doubt whether the defendant
believed or did not believe that her act was a crime or anything less
than murder, they must nevertheless resolve that she did indeed commit
a deliberate act of murder. We must not allow hair-raising testimonies
to distract us or affect our judgement. Do not let fear or loathing
prevent you from using your mental faculties."
In spite of this caution, the jury's deliberation
lasted no more than an hour. When they returned to the courtroom and
took their seats, the clerk stood up to ask their verdict. Al-Ahram's
correspondent at the trial recorded the ensuing exchange:
"Clerk of the court: Is Madame Fahmi guilty of
Foreman of the jury: Not guilty.
Clerk of the court: Is the defendant guilty of manslaughter (murder
committed without deliberation)?
Foreman of the jury: Not guilty."
The correspondent goes on to describe the reaction
in the courtroom: "When spectators in the court heard this verdict
they started to applaud. The news quickly reached the members of the
public waiting outside and they, too, began to applaud. Offended by
this display, the judge angrily called the court to order and ordered
all present in the courtroom to leave with the exception of the
lawyers and journalists. He then turned to address Madame Fahmi and
said, 'Madame Fahmi, the jury has found you not guilty. You are
acquitted of the charges that had been brought against you.'"
This ended the proceedings but the trial of
"Oriental customs," in which Egyptians were the target, continued to
rage for several days in the British press. This development, too,
Al-Ahram brought to its disconcerted readers.
The Daily Mirror cautioned against marriages
between Western women and Eastern men. Such marriages, it suggested,
give rise to ludicrous and inappropriate emotions. The case of Madame
Fahmi, in particular, "should serve as a lesson to our young
emotionally impressionable daughters who have yet to acquire a certain
The Lloyd News wrote that "the white woman
who seeks love from men not of her race, whether they are yellow,
brown or black, enters a world against which her nature must rebel
when she learns the truth." The Sunday Pictorial could not have
agreed more. It commented that the Madame Fahmi case held little
surprise for those who were familiar with the manifestations of the
In a similar vein, The Western Morning News
cautioned against "the spirit of liberalism that has spread among many
British families, bringing them to accept some Easterners as friends
into their homes and, in turn, has eventually led to marriages." The
newspaper went on to observe, "However, no sooner does the newly-wed
British wife go east than her disillusionment begins. British parents
must warn their daughters to be on guard against Oriental men."
Not all sections of the British press fell in with
this wave of anti-Eastern hostility, particularly following the harsh
condemnations of the trial and the verdict coming from Egyptians who
resided in England at the time or happened to be present there during
the trial and from the Egyptian people in Egypt who vented their anger
through their national press.
One Egyptian citizen, Abdel-Rahman El-Biyali Bek,
was so incensed by the substance of the trial that he dispatched a
statement to the British press defending Egyptian marital life.
Vehemently protesting Hall's assertions, El-Biyali wrote, "Egyptian
men treat their wives with the utmost respect and those who deviate
from this rule are no more numerous in Egypt than those who deviate
from this rule in other countries. Islamic Law has placed such
conditions on the permissibility to marry more than one wife as to
render this option virtually impossible. Moreover, from time to time,
the British press circulates reports on the women's movement in Egypt,
reports which reflect the impact Egyptian women have on national
affairs. When Saad Zaghlul Pasha returned to Cairo a cortege of women
in 80 automobiles was there to greet him. The Egyptian women's
delegation that travelled to Rome to participate in a conference there
made an important contribution to the deliberations that took place
there. The delegation was led by Hoda Sha'rawi, the well-known
feminist leader. Finally, Egyptian law does not confer upon the
husband the right to treat his wife any differently from another
person. Among the wives of Egyptian men, there are many women of
various European nationalities who vigorously denounce Sir Marshall
Also in Cairo, the Women's Wafd Party Central
Committee met to draft a letter protesting the conduct of the trial
and its verdict. This letter, which they dispatched in telegram form
to the British press and to the residence of the British High
Commissioner, read, "We take strong exception to the fallacious and
appalling accusations directed by Madame Marguerite Fahmi's lawyers
and most of the British press against Oriental peoples in general and
Egyptians in particular. Egyptian women can only perceive these
spurious allegations as a deliberate campaign of hostility, a new form
of defamation of Oriental peoples in order to justify British colonial
The outrage spread beyond the borders of Egypt, as
can be seen from The Daily Express report from its
correspondent in Jerusalem where the Madame Fahmi trial provoked harsh
censure from British expatriates and Palestinian Arabs.
Several British newspapers sympathised with the
Egyptians and were themselves critical of the way prejudice had
perverted justice. The Daily Herald, the mouthpiece for the
Labour Party, was the first to suggest that the jury's verdict had
less to do with the demands of justice than it did with the
outstanding performance of Sir Marshall. The newspaper added, "If the
Labour Party comes to power, its government will do away with that
system that conditions the defendants' chances of acquittal largely
upon how much they can afford to spend on their defence."
The Daily Chronicle featured an editorial
that prompted Al-Ahram to remark that that British newspaper
had "come to its senses." The newspaper, which had formerly welcomed
the court's verdict, admitted that the objections voiced by Egyptians
were valid and that Islamic marital codes in Egypt "are founded upon
powerful moral tenets and place men and women on equal footing in the
performance of matrimonial duties. There are as many upstanding
individuals among the Muslim people as there are among the Christian
people and it is hypocrisy to claim that our culture produces better
people than the 'backward' cultures in most parts of the Orient."
However, in spite of the apologetic tone of many
British articles, it is doubtful that they went a long way towards
dispelling the general cultural and psychological mindset that gave
rise to Kipling's "East is East and West is West" and made possible
the racially-inspired manipulation of justice in the Madame Fahmi